Trans fats have been shown to increase levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol) while also lowering levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol), thereby clogging arteries and causing heart disease.
Eric Brandt of the Case Western University School of Medicine wrote that current FDA labeling guidelines are misguiding in allowing products with less than 0.5g of trans fat to be labeled as containing zero grams of trans fat, or ‘trans fat free’.
This makes it easy for consumers to unwittingly exceed suggested maximum intakes of trans fat (TF), Brandt wrote, noting that an increase of 2 percent of total energy intake from trans fats could lead to a 23 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
“For example, if one ingested four processed foods, in addition to ruminant foods, each containing .44 grams of TFs, he or she would ingest 2.87 grams of TF (i.e., 1.11 grams from ruminant foods + 1.76 grams from processed foods) or 1.29 percent of total energy intake, which exceeds the suggested daily TF intake,” Brandt wrote. “…The laws need to be changed to reflect the true content of TFs in order to provide the most accurate, science-based information and to improve public health.”
Trans fats occur naturally in meat and dairy products, thought to provide about 0.5 percent of the average American’s daily calories – under the one percent maximum recommended by the World Health Organization and the US Department of Agriculture, among others. Artificial trans fats, produced by the partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils, are gradually being phased out of the US food supply, although the reformulation process has presented challenges as artificial trans fats are cheap, prolong product shelf life, and provide food manufacturers with stability for deep frying.
The FDA requires trans fat in amounts above five grams to be labeled in 0.1g increments, and below five grams in increments of 0.5g, meaning that levels of 0.49g and lower can be labeled as ‘trans fat free’.
Brandt wrote: “New legislation should address this problem by requiring food labels to report TF content in .1-gram increments…These parameters will increase awareness of true food TF content, enable informed food choice decisions, and improve public health outcomes.”